#NairaLife: “The Cost Of Planning My Life Around Avoiding SARS”

October 12, 2020

Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.

This week’s #NairaLife is an attempt to explore some of the costs that exist and prices people have to pay because SARS just won’t leave them alone.

Tell me about the first time it happened. 

To avoid traffic, I used to leave the house very early – as early as 4 am – and leave work as late as 10 pm. There was this road on my way home – it was always dark at night, and the rule on dark roads is to drive really fast. 

Out of nowhere, I saw flashlights at the side of the road, police-style. But I was too close to stop. If I’d tried to stop, I’d probably have killed myself. 

Because of your car. 

Yes. An SUV. Next thing, I just heard kpa! Kpa!

Gunshots? 

Yes. I don’t know if it was two or three, but the shock drove me to stop. Thinking about it, that was a stupid thing to do. They could have shot me when I came down from the vehicle. I came down and started screaming “WHAT THE FUCK?!” I was too angry. I can’t even remember if they slapped me, but I heard “I go slap you now! Wey your driver’s licence?!” and all that. My papers were complete, and when they couldn’t find anything to hold me for, they said I had to pay for the bullets. 

Uhm, what? 

After all my resistance, they took me to an ATM, and I withdrew ₦20k to give them; ₦10k per bullet. 

I carried my damaged car for about a year before I sold it. But that wasn’t the only time it happened. 

When did it happen again? 

I went to see my parents. I didn’t even drive. I took an Uber because I realised that every time I drive, it ends with harassment or something getting spoilt in my car because of bad roads. I don’t even let my Uber drive to my house because of how bad the roads are. I was taking an okada for the rest of the way home when SARS officers stopped my okada. 

They asked me where I was going, I told them. They asked me what was in my bag, I told them it was my laptop. They asked me to open it, and when I refused, one of them slapped me. 

They grabbed the bag, opened it and saw a Macbook. 

“Na Apple?! Na Apple be this?!” Another slap. A black bus came out of nowhere, and they were dragging me into the bus. I started screaming, hoping people would intervene. No one did. 

Man. 

They successfully dragged me into the bus and took my phone. It was an iPhone. 

More Apple. 

They forced me to unlock it, tried to read my chats, but they didn’t find any. They kept asking for my Facebook, which I don’t have. 

“We go reach station today!” 

When we got to the station, they took me to the back of the building, sat me on the ground and slapped me. They kept saying, “You be G Boy! Apple! We know your type!” Luckily for me, I had my ID card, and I showed them. 

What did they say?

“Alaye, all this one na story!” 

I asked for them to let me call my lawyer, and what did these people say? “Where you think say you dey wey you go dey call lawyer?” They asked me to unlock the computer, and I don’t know where the confidence came from, but I refused. 

I might kill myself one day, because I started screaming. “I no fit unlock am, na company property. You wan steal company money?” 

One policeman came from inside the station and told them to allow me to make a call. I called my lawyer friend and when they spoke to him, they kept yelling, “So you be lawyer for this G boy?!”

I dunno what my friend said, but when the call ended, they started saying, “Chairman, drop something.”

When they eventually released me, one of the officers said, “We’ll catch you again, no worry.”

When I got home, I told my mum I was never coming home again. 

I imagine your friends have stories. 

My flatmate was travelling across Southwest Nigeria and found himself on a highway with SARS. They told him they were going to kill him there, and nothing would happen. Since then, any time he’s driving and sees a police checkpoint ahead, he legit starts having panic attacks. 

One of my other friends walked past a SARS point with his brother, and they grabbed them for nothing. He didn’t even argue;  he just went to an ATM, withdrew ₦100k for himself and his brother, and went on his way. 

It got so bad for me that I had to leave my neighbourhood. 

Because of SARS?

Partly, but it was also just a bad neighbourhood where parking my car outside was a problem. And because it was a bad neighbourhood, SARS always came. I moved to a new side of Lagos, and I stopped experiencing SARS trouble. 

Where? 

Lekki. I moved before I could afford to. In fact, I had to take a company loan to be able to meet my rent in Lekki. My salary was ₦500k, and I took a loan of 1 million. This was in 2017.  

It feels like a fortification for you. 

It is o. Other efforts, I must say, might perhaps my car? So, my glass is tinted, and policemen tend to not want to offend powerful people. In fact, I’m considering getting police plate numbers. They cost up to 300k. 

But even within my fortification, I still get profiled by my mostly older neighbours. What do you think they think of a person who hardly leaves the house because he’s been working remotely before the pandemic? 

Beyond your personal life, it looks like this is a corporate problem. 

Yes. Where I work, whenever you get arrested by SARS, you call the legal team at the office immediately. Even if you’re only able to call after, they double down to try to retrieve whatever was collected from you. 

I work in tech, and at my company, we built a tiny, hidden in-house app. Once I open it, it triggers an alert to my company’s Slack channel, sending my live location and my name. 

So, any time SARS stops anybody, if they’re able to, they just need to open that app, and everyone in the office knows where they are. 

We worry about making it public because SARS guys might learn about it. But we want to at least start talking to companies to start using it. 

What other hidden costs exist? 

For me, when I want to hire people on my team, I have to consider where they live. Always. Once they mention one of those SARS hot spots like Shomolu, I start to mentally calculate the salary amount that it’d cost for them to move to a better neighbourhood. 

I remember one of my team members moved after he was assaulted by policemen. He borrowed money and found the cheapest possible apartment.

Another reason why this is important to me is that a lot of people on the team carry their laptops home. That means that if SARS accesses their computers, they might be able to access sensitive customer information that needs to be safe.

How does this dread make you feel about your future in this society? 

The thing is, even though I want to give my children, whenever I have them, a better passport, I still want them to be able to think of this place as home. Take me for example, I can japa, but I would have to leave my mum, dad, brother. I can’t carry all of them. Leaving Nigeria won’t give me peace of mind. 

Ah, looks like there are serious stakes on the family front. 

Well, I’m the firstborn, for starters. I have four other family members. I’ve essentially just taken the burden, or responsibility of my siblings. My dad is retired, my mum runs a shop. If the burden of my two siblings goes back to my parents, that’s going to be disastrous. 

Currently, 25% to 30% of my income goes to my family monthly. It’s everything, allowances for all of them, food for the house. One of them is a student, so there’s always a school thing to pay for. 

How many per cent of their monthly expenses do you think it currently covers?

And that’s just monthly. There’s the occasional stuff; rent for myself and siblings, school fees. I bought all the phones in the house. 

I actually don’t want to think about it, I just accept it as part of life.

There’s always a moment when you realise that you’re the new breadwinner.

It was my younger brother’s first school fees for me. My parents could not afford to pay, even though It cost about 180k. There was also the hostel rent. That was when it dawned on me that I’d taken on a new role in the family. Random, but it’s quite ironic that our parents aren’t proactive about #EndSARS, especially since many of their children are victims.

There’s the pressure of me wanting to take my siblings out of that environment because it’s just not safe. They haven’t had any bad SARS experience, but they don’t have to. 

You work in tech, that makes you a sitting duck for starters. 

Look, I made locs, and I had to cut them because I didn’t want problems. The only reason I’m really scared of SARS is that people need me. 

Another thing I’ve seen with every SARS video I’ve seen – and even my own experience – nobody is going to help you. It shouldn’t be. 


The next Naira Life drops on Monday next week at 9 am. This is what you get when you subscribe to Zikoko’s Money Newsletter:

  • You get it before everybody else, plus all the things that didn’t make the cut.
  • You also get a #NairaLife throwback, where we check in with someone from the past, and see how they’re doing now.

Find all the past Naira Life stories here.

Over to you, in what ways has SARS affected how you navigate your personal life?

Fu'ad Lawal

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